Conventional wisdom holds that happiness is a result.
Sonya Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at University of California, Riverside, and author of the popular, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Penguin, 2008), says, "Becoming lastingly happy demands making permanent changes that require effort and commitment every day of your life."
Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Eat, Pray, Love, "Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it... and once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever."
Want to be happy? You have to try to be happy.
Research shows the desire for and pursuit of happiness can cause you to focus on your own feelings instead of the people around you, leading to a sense of disconnection and loneliness.
Other research shows a constant pursuit of happiness can cause you to feel time is slipping away from you. "Because pursuing goals (i.e., happiness) requires an investment of time," the researchers write, "and because happiness is a goal that is often never fully realized, the pursuit of happiness should cause people to anticipate needing to dedicate more and more time toward the continued pursuit of happiness and, as a result, to feel as though they have less and less time available to them in the present."
Or in non researcher-speak, "I'm not happy because I don't have enough time to work on being happy."
Other research shows that the more strongly people agree with the following statements...
- "How happy I am at any given moment says a lot about how worthwhile my life is"
- "To have a meaningful life, I need to feel happy most of the time"
- "I value things in life only to the extent that they influence my personal happiness"
... the less content they are with their current lives.
And the less happy they feel.
Stop Trying to Be Happy...
Imagine you've been planning a vacation for months. You've found the best hotels. The best activities. The coolest things to do. This vacation... it's going to be epic.
And then it's not. The hotel isn't quite as swanky as you hoped. The vistas didn't turn out to be quite as grand as you expected. The cool factor fell just a bit short.
Maybe that's because planning a vacation can make people just as happy as actually taking the vacation; during the planning phase, the sky is the limit.
Or maybe that's because the more you hoped to enjoy every last moment, the more you hoped for life-changing experiences and lasting memories... the less fun your vacation became. You wanted so badly to be happy -- you worked so hard to be happy -- that there was no way any trip could live up to your expectations.
While your imagination never lets you down, reality often can.
Especially if you're actively pursuing happiness.
Working hard to be happy won't make you happy.
Working hard to be happy will only result in constant comparisons of your current emotional state to some ill-defined standard for a meaningful, fulfilling, happy life.
... and Just Start Living
Happiness is the icing on the cake of doing a few things right -- things that are fulfilling and meaningful all on their own.
Like making a few good friends. Research shows that doubling your number of friends -- real friends, not social media friends -- is like increasing your income by 50 percent in terms of how happy you feel.
Or showing gratitude for what you have, not for what you want: Research shows writing down 5 things you're happy for, once a week, will make you significantly happier after a few weeks. Again: What you're happy for -- not what you hope to be happy for.
Or focusing on money as a driver of happiness. Research shows that once you earn approximately $75,000 per year, earning more doesn't result in greater happiness.
That's because "things" can't make you happier.
But meaningful work can. Family can. Friends can. Achieving goals you want to achieve can. Adopting the only work-life balance formula that actually works can.
Living your life your way can.
Do those things, and you won't even think about trying to be happy.
You'll be too busy being happy.